The Storm Before the Calm

torn piece of paper with divorce text and paper couple figures

A Dear One is divorcing and her teen daughter hates her.

“Don’t try to fix it.” I advise.  “Let her be angry.” The truth is, this girl wants to be angry and divorce is a well-suited excuse to unleash her rage.

You want your daughter to see from adult eyes – to feel even a tidbit of hope that divorce will make life better instead of worse.  But this girl’s heart is not ready to mend, for it has just begun its breaking open.  In youthful naivete, this tender thing was blind-sided.  In time, she may forgive.  Or not.  Some carry torches of pain for a lifetime.  This will be her choice.  Your job is to love through it as best you can.  Love her.  Love yourself.  Love the circumstances that challenge you to rise above.

You asked my advice and hoped for a remedy to a situation that is unsolvable in a sentence or a phone call or a pocket-guide.  Finding neutral for yourself and your revised family unit will take time that you don’t want to spare and patience you don’t think you possess.

You speak to me of plots and plans and you admit that you’re not thinking straight.  How can you? You are being tossed against obstacles like a tiny boat in a raging sea and you fear you may drown.

My job is not to dive in after you at risk of getting swept up by the current.  I will not agree or disagree with your manic declarations.  It won’t serve anyone if I immerse myself in the drama.  I need to stay on solid ground like the lighthouse keeper, shining a light so you know which direction to move in.

I would remind you that you are stronger than you realize.  You are a survivor.  But remember, strength doesn’t always look pretty.  It cries sometimes.  It reveals things that otherwise wouldn’t be exposed. Vulnerability is a place of healing.  Trust the process. Let it transform you.  Permit yourself to be human.  Forgive yourself twenty times a day.  Then do it again.

These are ugly times.  Hard times.  But not impossible times.  You have come so far.  It took courage to say the ‘D’ word and mean it.  You must continue to be brave to survive the fallout.

Those who love you will endure with you.  Please keep your faith.  Even the most terrifying storms pass.  This darkness will lift and reveal a new calm.  Your sweet, conflicted daughter will surface.  You will learn that you can stand alone in your own shoes.  And one day, you will smile without trying because joy has returned.

Deb

The Language of Dis-ease

UnderwaterTreasure2Illness and injury get no respect. They are the pariahs of the human experience, cast off and despised as adversaries or at the very least, inconvenient truths. If we took the time to acquaint ourselves with these repudiated occurrences, we’d not only lessen our misery but also emerge as victors who have captured an extraordinary prize.

My career allows me to work with the infirm on a daily basis. As such, I am privy to the language of dis-ease, which, I would claim, is one of the richest and most complicated languages of any I’ve heard.

Dis-ease speaks in unlimited dialects unique to each person – a language unto itself that can only be fully understood by the person to whom it is being spoken. The problem and the blessing is that most of us aren’t fluent in this language. Even those, or especially those, who suffer chronically, struggle to understand the messages of their dis-ease.

A young woman has cancer but is in denial. Months past her diagnosis she won’t let her thoughts attach to the idea that her body is under siege and could inevitably succumb. To do so would feel too vulnerable – like opening the front door and setting out a welcome mat. She pretends that she is the same woman now as she was before, fiercely self-reliant and insanely productive.

As many do, she mistakes denial for survival mentality and thinks that if she refuses to let cancer change the outward appearance of her life, it will not change the inner.

“Good idea.” we agree. “Think positive. Don’t give in.” We look on dis-ease as the ultimate enemy – the criminal who robs us. But dis-ease is not the enemy. Our resistance to it is the actual thief.

A man has had surgery after an accident and will be out of commission for weeks. He has felt angry and impatient. He berates himself for the imagined avoid-ability of it all. This is akin to thinking that one could skip 7th grade if only one had been more careful.

There are lessons to be learned from difficult times that simply cannot be passed over. Setbacks are perfectly-placed opportunities for learning. How would we learn true patience if we weren’t frustrated beyond sanity? How could we know the depths of compassion from others if we weren’t ever desperate for help?

In my children’s elementary school they set aside an educational block called WIN – What I Need. During this time, the students break off into groups tailored to an area of deficiency. Life School has What I Need. Naturally, we’d rather go to recess than to WIN. But on that one day, perhaps a very difficult day when we’ve all but given up, something clicks and we GET IT. We get that we need to:

accept help
face mortality
learn how to prioritize
ask for what we need and want
shed vanity
learn how to channel anger and jealousy
surrender our agenda…….

The lightbulb turns on and we realize what life, our teacher, has been trying to teach us all these years. We have seen this problem before – back in ‘Relationship Breakup Class’ and in ‘Becoming a New Parent Class’, and in ‘Loss of a Job Class.’ It took another crisis for us to see it, but it all makes sense now. Life, the best teacher ever, refuses to give up on us. It keeps presenting us with new opportunities to learn.

Sister found me half-asleep, curled up on a couch in a quiet room away from the other partygoers for whom I had been pretending to be well. Ever so tenderly, she covered me with a blanket then silently crept away. A single tear materialized and a relaxed rush of emotion spread through my aching body. This one simple gesture was an enormous gift of caring that moved me and saddened me. How long had it been since someone had mothered me? How long since I allowed someone to try? Sickness was the circuit-breaker that blew my fuse, presenting the darkness I needed where I wouldn’t otherwise choose to shut down the overload.

If illness is knocking at your door, you can pretend you’re not home but it won’t go away. It’s there FOR you. Everything that happens TO us happens FOR us. Perhaps, instead of cursing dis-ease, we could thank it. Even if we don’t clearly see the lesson plan, we can be assured that there is one and can be grateful that this teacher has shown up to present it.

If we refuse to stretch our awareness and refuse to relax our grip on our incomplete understanding of life, we risk becoming bitter and fear-filled. Anxiety reigns in those who believe in ghosts. Dis-ease doesn’t want to hurt us and leave us empty-handed. It’s not looking for a fight, this sheep in wolves’ clothing. It wants us to grow.

Sometimes dis-ease brings us to the brink of death and dysfunction in order to see. Don’t be afraid. Open your eyes. Look with your heart. Let your mind expand. Find the gifts that are hidden beneath the surface like buried treasure.

There is beauty in dis-ease. I insist. I’ve seen it. Not in the person who ‘survived’ for the sake of living and returning to a premorbid state of being. The real beauty is found in the vulnerable one who dares to surrender to the message. The one who says, “I accept this poker hand and I raise the bet. I bet that even if I don’t win the pot at the end, I will still have learned something about playing the game. And I am content with that.”

Eddy Out

white-water-rafting-rapids_03I wasn’t at the Boston marathon this year.  Nor was I with my parents in my childhood home in Watertown.  But I watched, along with the rest of the world, a week’s worth of terror on my turf.  I wake each morning since April 15th feeling violated, as if my own home has been robbed.

During this week of evolving tragedy, husband and I checked in with our brood to allow for debriefing.  Nine year old Peach responded with a casual dismissiveness, leaving us to wonder if her detachment from fear was self-protective.  When she emerged from her bedroom in full-blown tears, we assumed it was bombing-related.  Instead we got this:  “Blubby (the goldfish) is dead!”

Stifling a smile, I offered my deepest sympathies.  As words of comfort flowed, it struck me that these same condolences are being uttered throughout our city.  Be it animal or human, when a loved one has passed, we are called to support each other.

I tried to disconnect these two incidents, assigning weight where it was due, but the two were entwined like the two sides of the ‘Best Friends’ necklace that Peach asked me to disentangle.  She wondered about her fish’s passing, “Why me?  Why are brother’s fish still alive?  What did I do wrong?”  To which I replied, “Death is not personal.  It happens to all living things.  It’s part of the deal.”

This detached truth is the tiny light that burns eternal.  Death, illness, loss…they are simply part of the risk of being alive.  We are no more immune to them than we are to joy and abundance.  When we engage in life, we are equally at risk of experiencing overwhelming love as we are at experiencing loss.  Life doesn’t play favorites.  When we try to assign reason to life, it makes us suffer and keeps us stuck in confusion.

At times like these, I am reminded of the instructions given at the start of a white water rafting trip.  If one falls out of the boat:

  1. Don’t panic
  2. Don’t try to swim – it’s futile to fight the river
  3. Put your feet up and let the river take you.  It may toss you around, but eventually it will spit you out.
  4. Look for the rescue rope.  Someone will throw it to you.

This week felt a lot like falling out of a boat – again.  There was panic and fear.  We scrambled underwater, searching for terrorists and demanding resolution, trying to stop the hurt and climb back to safety.  At last, the river of life spit us out, heads above water, and we could see hope.  All around us, ropes were thrown – expressions of solidarity and generosity coming from near and far.

I used to marvel at Anne Frank’s famous declaration that, “Despite everything, I believe people are really good at heart.”  But now, witnessing the collective response to the Boston bombings, I too, am certain that there is more good in the world than evil.  There are more people trying to save the world than hurt it.

It is certain that life will toss us into the river again and we will lose precious possessions in the process.  But we can also be certain that we will be rescued.  We just need to stay centered, release our resistance, and reach for the ropes.

Boston is eddying-out after negotiating a wicked rapid. It still has a long stretch of river to travel before finding its footing on dry land.  Knowing Boston, it will take on the rest of this river with a vengence.  Then it will climb back in the boats, ready to show the river who’s boss.

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